My goodness, how the mighty have fallen. The once-great Collingwood reduced to rubble off the field and a rabble on it.
Plenty of clubs have shot themselves in the foot over the years, but since the start of trade period last season, the Pies have fired bullets into their own torso and heart as well.
First came the fire sale that saw the jettisoning of Adam Treloar (All Australian form at the Dogs), Jaidyn Stephenson (career-best form for North), Tom Phillips (solid contributor at Hawthorn) and Atu Bosenavulagi (has looked stylish since debuting for the Roos two weeks ago).
It wasn’t just that the players were basically man-handled out the door, it was the morally bankrupt media spin to accompanying it that really stung.
List management is a complex and tricky affair, but rarely do we see the type of bloodletting that happened last spring. Not every club is going to nail it year after year, but when you miss it should be within the margin for error.
Since then, Eddie McGuire has made a full-throated defence of Collingwood’s actions, both as president and media commentator, using his same old tired schtick of the best form of defence being attack. He should remain embarrassed on all fronts for the club’s handling of the affair.
Note to the club executive: it’s okay to treat your members, the football public and the media as if they have a brain. Well, maybe not the media.
Then, of course, came the “historic and proud day” when Collingwood released an independent report that found the club was guilty of egregious systemic racism. Not many were flabbergasted at the finding, or the response given the questionable history of the club and individuals involved.
McGuire, the King Kong of media titans in Victoria and ever the rambunctious salesman, finally made a misstep from which he couldn’t recover, and was forced to resign in disgrace.
Every mistake that has come to light in recent times has had the fingerprints of McGuire all over it, and that’s okay. So did much success, let’s not forget that.
But hubris comes at a price eventually. Whether it was orchestrating the coaching handover that saw the club go from premiership and grand finalist in two consecutive years when Mick Malthouse finished, to decline in each of Nathan Buckley’s first six years, or paying big individual money to land Treloar or extend Brodie Grundy’s contract, many actions had the ring of ‘we’ll do what we feel like and bluff our way through it, we are Collingwood after all’.
Spin first, reality second.
And now a 1-5 start to the 2021 season, with only a win over Carlton to their credit. And the Blues aren’t exactly seen as a scalp, having been savaged by the media over the first six weeks for soft and meek displays.
Whether they wanted it or not, the rebuild is on. That much is clear to everyone.
Everyone except new President Mark Korda, who seems to have adopted ‘winningly smug’ as his philosophy for the many photo ops presented to him in the last week.
“I think we’ll do finals,” he said in The Age on Sunday. Do finals. Not “play” finals, or “make” finals, like every person in the history of the game has said. It brought to mind Bill Shorten trying to eat a hot dog from the middle or Tony Abbot eating a raw onion like an apple. Not exactly man-of-the-people stuff.
While Treloar, Stephenson, Phillips, Bosenavulagi (combined average age of 23) strut their stuff elsewhere, the Pies are stacking their team with dead wood like Levi Greenwood (32), Chris Mayne (32), Josh Thomas, Will Hoskin-Elliott, and Jack Madgen.
Then there’s Mason Cox, a 30-year-old who the jury is still out on. As the Mean Girls might say – stop trying to make Cox happen; it’s not going to happen.
And the black cloud hanging over everything else is Nathan Buckley coming out of contract at the end of 2021. It’s a big deal no matter who the coach or club is, but this particularly relationship is never going to be far away from front-page news all season.
With talk of backroom ructions and powerbrokers lining up to challenge Korda, which was natural after decades of McGuire leadership, Buckley’s position an ongoing conversation and the team going nowhere on the field, Collingwood are as unstable as they have been at any point this century.
Whatever happens from here, it’s going to be a big story and fun to watch.